Just after the Civil War ended, the town of South Pittsburg, Tennessee was established. Until recently I had never heard of South Pittsburg, Tennessee, let alone think about writing anything about the city. I now know that this city is the home of Lodge Manufacturing (maker of those great cast iron products) and the National Cornbread Festival.
Each spring the population of the town grows to 15 or 20 times its normal size to accommodate the cornbread crowd. Lodge closes the plant so visitors can take a plant tour and funds raised from the festival have been used to build a park and restore a local theater. 2006 marks the10th anniversary of the festival.
If you are at all familiar with cast iron cooking, you know how good the food tastes coming out of cast iron. You know the benefits from cooking almost anything from one-pot meals, to pineapple upside-down cake. But have you ever thought of the draw backs to cast iron- at least from the manufacturer’ standpoint? The stuff lasts FOREVER. If you take reasonable care of your cast iron, your grand kids will be using it on a campout.
Lodge came up with some creative ideas. They started marketing a pre-seasoned line of skillets and other products and this line now accounts for more than 80% of new business. The also broadened the line to include non-traditional cookware such as woks. Concerns about Teflon and other non-stick surfaces also lead some new buyers to cast iron. In 2003 Lodge brought out an enameled line, but it was nowhere near as well received as the pre-seasoned line. Later this year they plan to release the new Color line which will still be enamel but more traditional than the previous line. Part of the reason for growth of the enameled lines is that enameled pieces look nicer on the table.
Looking nicer on the table is a nice introduction to the other Lodge strategy- highlighting cast iron in homes and restaurants. Chef Stephan Pyles in his namesake restaurant in the Arts District in Dallas loves serving his scalloped potato casserole and jambalaya in cast iron. Chef Dunn, also of Dallas, loves cast iron for his paella. And Chef Tom Colicchio of the Craft restaurants in New York and Dallas does his heritage rack of pork in cast iron. The reason these chefs like cast iron is good heat retention, even heat distribution and gentle cooking- the same reasons we all love it.
For more information about the Cornbread Festival, some good recipes and more information on cooking with cast iron, go to one of the links below.